The best book of the 21st century is Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. The best book of the 21st century—that’s saying a lot! Let’s put that in perspective.
R. Bowker LLC, which issues the ISBN numbers used by librarians to track individual titles, says that 3 million books are published annually. So, in the twenty years of the 21st century we’ve had 60 million books published. And Google estimates that 200 million books are currently in circulation. That’s a lot of books.
Here’s what I’m saying. Of the 60 million books published in the 21st century, the #1 book is Dane Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly.
By the way, I’m saying that as the author of twenty books in the 21st century. And I wouldn’t put any of my twenty books in the unique category of Ortlund’s Gentle and Lowly.
What Makes Gentle and Lowly So Unique and Special?
Shirley and I are reading Gentle and Lowly together. I asked Shirley for her one-sentence summary. She captures well the unique value of the book.
“Gentle and Lowly opens your eyes to learn more about God than you’ve ever known before.”
This is being said by a mature Christian woman—Shirley—who has been a Christian for half-a-century. I agree with my wife.
In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer famously writes:
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
Gentle and Lowly is renewing my mind about who God is. I’m saying that as a Christian for half-a-century, and as a pastor, biblical counselor, and seminary professor for thirty-five years. It seems like in every chapter in Gentle and Lowly I’m saying to myself, “I’ve taught on this verse; I’ve shared it in counseling. How could I have missed this rich insight about the gentle, good, and gracious heart of Christ!?”
This is a primary purpose of Ortlund in Gentle and Lowly—to renew our minds about who Christ is. Ortlund describes this purpose throughout his writing. Here’s one example, in a chapter on the richness of God’s mercy.
“Nowhere in the Bible is God described as rich in anything. The only thing he is called rich in is: mercy. What does this mean? It means that God is something other than what we naturally believe him to be. It means that the Christian life is a lifelong shedding of tepid thoughts of the goodness of God” (172).
When you think about God, does it naturally come into your mind that He is gentle and lowly? If not, then Gentle and Lowly is the proverbial “must read” for you—as it has been for me.
The Heart of Christ
Ortlund introduces chapter 1 like this, beginning by quoting the central verse from which he draws his title—Matthew 11:29.
“‘I am gentle and lowly in heart’ (Matthew 11:29). My Dad pointed out to me something that Charles Spurgeon pointed out to him. In the four Gospel accounts given to us in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—eighty-nine chapters of biblical text—there’s only one place where Jesus tells us about his own heart” (17).
Imagine someone asking you, “Could you tell me the core of your heart, the essence of what makes you who you are?” What comes out of your mouth next is going to be quite essential. This is what Jesus does for us in Matthew 11:29—He tells us the essence of who He is. And this is what Dane Ortlund does for twenty-three riveting, relevant chapters—Ortlund exegetes the heart of Christ—the gentle and lowly heart of Christ.
Why the Heart of Christ Is So Vital in Our Personal Lives
Spoiler alert! I’m going to talk to you about the end of the book—Ortlund’s Epilogue. He asks the question, “What Now?” “But what are we to do with this?” (215). Ortlund replies like Jesus replies:
“But there is one thing for us to do. Jesus says it in Matthew 11:28. ‘Come to me.’ Whatever is crumbling all around you in your life, wherever you feel stuck, this remains, un-deflectable: his heart for you, the real you, is gentle and lowly. So go to him. That place in your life where you feel most defeated, he is there; he lives there, right there, and his heart for you, not on the other side of it but in that darkness, is gentle and lowly. Your anguish is his home. Go to him. ‘If you knew his heart, you would’” (216, the final sentence quotes from the Puritan Thomas Goodwin).
Gentle and Lowly is beautifully and powerfully motivating my heart to come to the heart of Christ. It can do the same for you.
How does knowing the gentle and lowly heart of Christ motivate us to come to Christ? Think theologically and practically with me. Jeremiah 2 begins with a description of the first love of God’s people for God.
“I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert” (Jer. 2:2).
Sadly it ends with God’s people forsaking their first love and now seeing God as a dark desert.
“You of this generation, consider the word of the Lord: ‘Have I been a desert to Israel or a land of great darkness? Why do my people say, We are free to roam; we will come to you no more?’” (Jer. 2:31).
What intervened to cause God’s people to morph from following Him into the desert to viewing Him as a desert? Jeremiah 2:5 and 2:19 tell us.
“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?” (Jer. 2:5).
“‘Consider then and realize how evil and bitter it is for you when you forsake the Lord your God and have no awe of me,’ declares the Lord, the Lord Almighty” (Jer. 2:19).
The word “fault” in Jeremiah 2:5 means “faulty”—what faulty view do you hold of me in your mind? It’s a word used of weights and measures in the sense of minimizing the weightiness of something or someone. It means that God’s people see God as a “lightweight.” They think insignificant thoughts about God. To use the language of Jeremiah 2:19, they have lost their awe of God—their sense of God’s awesomeness.
This is what Dane Ortlund is talking about in Gentle and Lowly. He’s highlighting that:
God’s awesomeness and weightiness are seen in God’s gentleness and lowliness.
That’s the uniqueness of Ortlund’s message, as I see it.
Why do we forsake God? Why do we not come to Christ? Because we have faulty views of God where we’ve lost our awe of God’s gentleness and lowliness—His perfect and infinite goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, and love.
Why the Heart of Christ Is So Vital in Our Biblical Counseling Ministry
Think about how this relates to biblical counseling and the care of souls. An anxious soul comes to us. We interact. We care. We listen. Then we journey together to 1 Peter 5:7.
“Cast all your care on him because he cares for you.”
We tend to emphasize the imperative encouragement: “cast all your care on him.”
However, we tend to neglect the essential motivation: “because he cares for you.”
Before we exhort and encourage someone to trust God, do we even know if they view Him as trustworthy?
Before we exhort people to cast their cares on God, do we even know if they view Him as caring?
Before we encourage counselees to entrust themselves to God, let’s journey with them helping them to grasp more and more the gentle and lowly heart of Christ—His perfect and infinite goodness, grace, mercy, compassion, and love for them.
The Best Book of the 21st Century
Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers is drawing me to the heart of Christ. It is helping me to draw the heart of my counselees to Christ. Gentle and Lowly is the best book of the 21st century.